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Chemistry Majors Rubin '14, Sharon '14, and Smaha '14 win Fulbrights

Three chemistry majors in the Princeton University Class of 2014 have been named as recipients of Fulbright U.S. Student Awards for the 2014-2015 academic year: Sara Rubin of the Rabinowitz Lab, Dina Sharon of the Groves Lab, and Rebecca Smaha of the Cava Lab.

The Fulbright Program was established by act of Congress in 1946 for the “promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science.” The program annually sends 1,600 U.S. students abroad and in turn brings foreign students to the United States, with over 155 countries participating. Forty-three Fulbright alumni have received Nobel Prizes.

Dina Sharon will conduct computational chemistry research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the laboratory of Professor Sason Shaik. Pharmaceutical and organic chemists need a toolbox of chemical building blocks, and Dina’s proposed research could help to expand the variety of such compounds. Species with a carbon-chlorine bond are versatile and valuable components of chemists’ libraries of molecules. Dina will investigate the SyrB2 enzyme, which is found in some bacteria and features a reactive iron center. SyrB2 can create carbon-chlorine bonds, but it also catalyzes other reactions. If an altered SyrB2 enzyme that exclusively makes carbon-chlorine bonds can be developed, it would provide chemists with a wider range of molecular building blocks. Professor Shaik employs computational techniques involving quantum mechanics and molecular mechanics to obtain insight into enzymatic reactions. Dina will use these methods to consider possible modifications of SyrB2, in order to further understand and enhance its selectivity. The lessons learned could make predictions to facilitate the design of a more effective enzyme for forming carbon-chlorine bonds.

Sara Rubin will join 2004 Nobel Laureate Professor Aaron Ciechanover and his team of researchers at the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) in Haifa, Israel in their quest to gain a better understanding of ubiquitination and its relevance to cancer progression. Ubiquitination, the attachment of a ubiquitin (Ub) molecule to a protein after it has been synthesized, serves as a signal to the proteasome, a cellular complex that breaks down proteins, that the attached protein should be degraded. When the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) is functioning properly, this signaling mechanism ensures that healthy levels of proteins are maintained within a cell. If ubiquitination goes awry, however, this can lead to many different diseases, including neurodegenerative disorders and various cancers. Sara’s research project will focus on identifying and elucidating the structures and chemical properties of cancer-relevant Ub protein substrates (those that are subject to enzyme-catalyzed ubiquitination), and complementarily, searching for novel substrate-specific enzymes called Ub ligases that are responsible for the actual attachment of Ub to protein substrates.

Rebecca Smaha will conduct research in solid-state chemistry at Spain’s Complutense University of Madrid in the laboratory of Professor Miguel Alario y Franco. She will focus on the discovery and description of properties of new magnetic rare earth oxide compounds which are predicted to be superconducting in certain crystal structures. This fundamental research will help elucidate the correlation of structure and reactivity in solid-state systems and the nature of superconductivity, which is not yet well enough understood to be reliably predictive. Solid-state chemistry, and materials chemistry in particular, develop and characterize new chemical compounds with unique properties that find useful application in semiconductor, thermoelectric, and energy storage technologies. The discovery of high-temperature superconductivity was one of the most important advances of materials science in the 20th century which led to the development of extremely powerful electromagnets which have applications in magnetic imaging technology, magnetic levitation, power transmission, and fast digital circuits.